China's LGBT community treads cautiously amid intolerance

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s LGBT advocates cautiously organized awareness-raising events across the country to celebrate International Anti-Homophobia Day on Thursday amid concern of growing intolerance towards LGBT causes.

One of the events was a 5.17 km run to raise awareness and celebrate the May 17 anniversary of the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from a list of diseases.

But organizers told participants to run on their own and not en masse.

An organizer of the runs held in Beijing, Liu Yifu, told Reuters that they did not dare to stage any mass events in the capital this year for fear that proceedings might be interrupted by the authorities.

Many event organizers and volunteers spoken to by Reuters said they had to be wary. Large gatherings and protests without approval are technically illegal in China.

On Sunday, two women handing out rainbow flag stickers during an event in Beijing’s famous 798 art district were hit by security guards, with one woman falling to the floor during the scuffle, according to videos that circulated online.

The incident sparked widespread outrage amongst China’s LGBT community, with many casting it as just the latest in a series of measures tightening the space for LGBT content to be aired on television and discussed online.

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Liu said content on his run posted on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, had disappeared.

“Yesterday, our event already was forwarded and read lots of times, then suddenly lots of Weibo posts disappeared, lots of content was deleted. We were very disappointed.”

Beijing LGBT Center, an advocacy group, organized an event in the capital’s high-tech district of Zhongguancun, where blindfolded volunteers wearing handpainted t-shirts saying “I am gay” stood with arms wide, hoping for hugs from passersby.

Hu Mianlin, a Beijing university student, told Reuters she took part because she thought it would be a more effective way to raise awareness than just writing articles online.

“Even though there are a lot of LGBT people in China, we still don’t have rights to get married and don’t have official approval,” she said.

“Official newspapers won’t do reports on LGBT issues.”

Last week, popular state-backed broadcaster Mango TV was stripped of its license to air the Eurovision Song Contest by the event’s organizers after censoring a semi-final performance that had what Chinese state media described as “LGBT elements”.

The channel’s decision to cut the song, as well as to pixelate rainbow flags in the audience, was considered particularly shocking to LGBT advocates, as it had previously aired shows touching on LGBT issues.

Award-winning gay romance “Call Me By Your Name” was pulled from the Beijing film festival in March, while a blacklist of banned audiovisual online content last year also controversially included homosexuality.

Editing by Nick Macfie